Setting up a radio station?

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So, setting up a radio station, huh?

There are a few options for you to consider regarding setting up an online radio station, firstly how are you going to use it? Will it be just to play music, like a jukebox? Will you be playing mostly music and a small number of live shows? Will it be mostly live shows?

The answers to these questions will determine the best route to take when setting up your own radio station.

Now, just to confuse you, let’s start at the end!

Regardless of how you actually broadcast (live, recorded, voicetracking, just music, etc) you will always need a streaming server. This is what sends your content to all your listeners. Without going into a huge amount of technical detail, you create your content, whether it be a live show or just music and you create this content only once and send it to your streaming server and then the server sends it on to your listeners. You would need a ton of Internet bandwidth and processing power to do this yourself, that’s why streaming servers exist.

Hang on! Can I not do that myself? Well, no… You will create one stream of music and this needs to be distributed to all of your listeners. It is highly unlikely that your home/office internet connection will be able to cope with this. This is why you create one stream of music and then send it on to your streaming server to serve to your listeners as and when they want to tune in.

So, to get started, you will definitely need a streaming server. We’ll narrow your choices down to just three things to consider.

Which type? The first thing to consider is what ‘type’ of streaming server will you be using. There are. In my opinion, two main types, Shoutcast and Icecast. While there are some differences, their job is the same, to get your broadcast to your listeners. Personally I prefer Shoutcast but that could simply be because I have had more exposure to using it, both work perfectly well. The user panel is slightly different as is the way you connect to the server, but they both perform the same task

How many listeners? The second thing to consider is how many listener slots you need. This part of the decision making has always proved to be slightly confusing. When choosing a streaming server, you will nearly always be asked ‘how many listener slots’ you want. What this means is that you have to decide how many listeners you want to be able to handle at any one time. It doesn’t refer to daily or monthly limits, only how many simultaneous listeners you can serve at any given moment. The reason this is relevant and nearly always asked is because streaming server hosts pay for bandwidth and depending on how much bandwidth they need, they pay more. They also need to reserve this bandwidth for you so that if you get a surge of listeners, then can cope with it. Unfortunately it is quite common for stream hosts to ‘oversell’ their bandwidth in a hope that not everyone will use their maximum slots at any given time. Beware of streaming server hosts offering ‘unlimited slots’ this is very misleading! Not only do you ‘have’ to specify a maximum number of listeners for your server, no streaming company could be able to honour this offer if all of a sudden your station became globally famous and you had thousands of listeners tuning it.

Another common problem here is that some streaming companies charge for bandwidth usage. In my opinion, beware of this. Unless you are a mathematical wizard, you really don’t want to be worried about how much bandwidth on a daily basis, what you really want is to be able to broadcast your radio station without any nasty surprises in case you go over the bandwidth you use. Just go for a ‘maximum slot’ monthly option and don’t worry about how much bandwidth you use.

So, your best option here is to start small, get the station launched, make sure your streaming server provider is happy to grow with you as you need more slots (some stream hosts do not allow these changes). I’d say a reasonable amount of slots to get started with is 50 or 100 and see how it goes from there. You’ll be able to monitor the statistics via your control panel so you can see if you are reaching your maximum listener slots at any time and simply upgrade when you do. Again, this does not mean that you’ll only be able to have 50 or 100 listeners per month, it just means that at any one time you can only allow this many listeners to tune in.

Quality? The final consideration for your streaming server is the actual level of quality of the stream. This will depend on what you are going to broadcast, will it be voice only (talk radio), will it be a combination of both, or will you be looking to stream high quality music content? In basic terms, the higher the quality you want, the more bandwidth you need. This is where, on purchasing a streaming server, you will probably be asked how many ‘kbps’ you require, or they will be marked as ‘maximum kbps’.

Breaking this down, generally you have three options. Talk Radio (speech only) is typically 48-64kbps, speech and music is typically 128kbps and high quality audio is 192kbps. Please note I say ‘typically’! You can get decent speech down to 24kbps and you can get decent music content in 64kbps, but these have been seen to be the standard choices.

We could go on to discuss a newer type of stream (AAC+) which is being used to serve content to mobile devices and allows you to better serve content to mobile devices, but this could confuse matters even more!

So, your three choices : Server type (Shoutcast or Icecast), Maximum listener slots and audio quality. The standard starter pack is typically a Shoutcast server with 100 slots at 128kbps. This is more than enough to get you started.

OK, back to the beginning!

If you will only be playing your own selection of music in a jukebox style station, then you probably have two options, either use a feature called AutoDJ which allows you to upload all your songs to your streaming server and play them from there, this means that you do not need a computer dedicated to playing your music or connected to your internet using up bandwidth, you do all the administration online via your control panel and make any changes there. The advantages of this option are that you don’t need to be permanently connected to the internet (using bandwidth), you don’t need a dedicated PC and you don’t run the risk of your station being down if your PC crashes or your home/office internet line being down. The disadvantages are that you have to pay for storage space on the server which will limit the amount of songs you can store. Another consideration is the limited amount of configuration and scheduling you can make.

Another option is to do the same thing, but from your own computer. The advantage here is that you are not paying for storage space on your streaming server (hard drives are relatively cheap these days), you can choose your own playout software and make as many configuration changes you want. The downside is that you need a dedicated PC and a decent internet connection.

So, what about if you want to host your own live shows every now and then?
Well, actually, the above two options are still valid. AutoDJ allows live connections to the server whenever you want and if you host on your own PC, then you can simply hook up a mic and you’re away. Again, both options are valid.
The main differences here are that if you want to connect up to your own AutoDJ server, you will still need another PC to send the stream to it, in fact depending on how well you want to do it, you will need an audio source (another PC with all your music on, CD players, Turntables or any other source of music) and of course you will need your own microphone, it is more than likely that you will need some kind of small mixing desk to hook all these up to and then into your encoding PC and then off to your streaming server or AutoDJ.

This is somewhere in between the options of having a mainly live radio station. You move away from the AutoDJ system and more towards having the station content generated from where the studio is going to be located.

AutoDJ does, however, prove very useful if you want to have a station whereby you have a number of remote DJs and no physical studio location. Each DJ would be allowed to broadcast on your station at their allocated slot time and connect and disconnect via a set of rules and a username and password. When no DJ connects to the server, your AutoDJ takes over and simply plays music.

Another option is where you want a more professional approach to your station and have a physical studio located somewhere (your studio, office or home studio). This would typically comprise of a decent microphone, a small mixing desk, an audio source (CD players, turntables, PC with a database of music, etc) and finally a PC which would encode your music content and send it off to your streaming server.
Quite how complex this set up is greatly depends on your requirements. You could have 3 or 4 microphones for talk radio and guests, a number of CD players, some turntables if you’re playing vinyl or a laptop with your favourite MP3’s stored on it. Your mixing desk could be analogue or digital with a number of inputs. When choosing your missing desk, always try and think how your setup may grow and buy one with enough inputs but while sticking to your budget.

So, we’ve covered streaming servers and your studio setup, but we still haven’t covered how to actually get your live show delivered to your streaming server.
If you will only be playing music from your server via AutoDJ, then all your music is already on your server so you do not really need to worry about this part as it doesn’t apply, but if you will be producing your live shows or sending music to your server from your studio then you need a way of getting it there.
If you are just sending music from your PC to your streaming server then you can do this from the same PC and depending on what software you are using to play the music it may have a built in encoder.
If you have a small studio with a mixer, then you will need to take the output from your mixer into your encoding PC (line input) and set up some encoding software on the PC which will then send your audio to your streaming server. Essentially it takes analogue audio and coverts it into data to send over the internet to your streaming server.
There are a few options for you here, you could use Winamps DSP (free) which allows you to connect up to your streaming server or a more professional approach and use RadioBoss’s ‘Caster’ which give you many more options.

Whichever approach you use to get your audio from your studio to your streaming server, you’ll be needing some important details, which are the IP or hostname of your server and the port number you have been allocated. You will also need to specify whether or not you’ll be using MP3 or AAC encoding and also the bitrate (audio quality) you will be using, this will have been decided when you chose a streaming server. All you need to do is enter these details into your encoder and hit connect and you’ll be streaming to your server!
It is important to remember that if you do broadcast from your studio, office or home studio, that your encoding PC will have to be left on permanently and connected to the internet using bandwidth. This is a consideration if you have capped bandwidth on your broadband plan as audio streaming uses a lot of bandwidth!

So, what have we learned?

Well, you need to decide what type of Radio Station you want to set up first and plan it out, are you just going to play music, will you be doing the occasional show, will you have remote presenters or DJ’s, will you have a physical studio somewhere, how will you get the audio to the streaming server and what type of server will you be using, how many listeners slots and what audio quality?

Contact us if you need help choosing your best options and if you’d like to discuss how to set up your radio station.

Streaming server providers : Radio ServicesEasyweb Communications

Sung jingles / adverts – Do they work?

Sung jingles / adverts - Do they work?
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We’ve all heard them, but do they work? The one that will probably spring into most people’s minds is the ongoing opera singing car insurance one (in the UK).

I’ve spent all my (radio) life encouraging people not to go down the ‘sung jingle’ route, but do they actually work?

Don’t get me wrong, my feeling is that they do not, they are cheesy, corny and just sound tacky, even the ones that have been done professionally BUT they are memorable and people can easily identify the brands with them and surely this is part of what an advert/jingle is meant to achieve.

Going back to my first statement, my son, who was six at the time, told me how much he hated the car insurance advert, but could easily tell me which company the advert was for. So it works!

But does it work for the right reason? Surely advertising is meant to professionally convey your companies ‘mission statement’? Is having people mocking and laughing at your brand the right way to go about your advertising your business? Personally, I think not!

Advertising has always been a tricky one, you have a number of seconds to convey your message. Get it wrong and you have wasted a great deal of your advertising budget, get it right and it will pay for itself very quickly.

I personally remember a few clients advertising campaigns that worked very well. One of them started off on an audio cassette tape (remember them?!) and they kept the same advert for years and years, despite all attempts of getting them to change the advert (mainly because it was recorded in an analogue format) and they were having none of it! Listeners would actually complain about the advert and how long it had been running but the client refused to change it. Their argument was that it worked and they would not change it. I guess they had a valid point!

Another series of adverts that worked for a client set out to be annoying from the offset. Again, we had listeners call up and complain about them because they found them annoying BUT when we purposely asked them which advert they meant, they could easily remember the brand. Again, the adverts worked, but at what cost?

There is always that balance that is placed with the creative writers and advertising agencies… Part of their job is to get the clients brand awareness and another part is to get the mission statement across in what should be a professional manner. The advert HAS to work for the client, but where to draw the line.

So we get back to sung jingles and adverts… I would never encourage a client to have one. I personally think they sound cheesy and corny and most of the time they are really difficult to understand anyway, especially if they sing the telephone number at you!

What would I recommend? A rich clear voice-only advert that calmly and clearly gives the listener your message, no background music (or very low) with MAYBE a music jingle at the end which identifies you (like a designed logo). Your advert must obviously include your company name, your key points (what you do, what services you offer, etc…) a contact telephone number and website. That’s it…

If you have a large advertising budget you could dabble in some alternatives for brand awareness, look at the success of the meerkat

Stage Names on air – Don’t do it!

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It’s been a while since the first post on my radio blog in which I spoke about demo tapes and my opinion on how they should be produced and sent to broadcasters.

In this post I would like to talk about people who, for some strange reason, decide to use ‘stage names’  instead of their real names when they work in the media industry.

Why??

 

I have never, ever, understood why people do this!

If your name is Joe Bloggs, why would you call yourself John Smith? It just doesn’t make any sense to me! Yet I hear so many people doing it.

In most areas of the media you are selling yourself, your name, your brand. Why would you not want to promote that as much as possible? At the end of the day that is what you are selling, yourself.

I don’t know why, but it infuriates me and always has. The only thing I can think of is that people are hiding from something. What other reason could there be?

Many people starting off in the industry asked me ‘what should I call myself on air?’. My answer : ‘your name!’.

Let me give you a good example of how I had a chuckle at this…

I once had a radio presenter working at the radio station I was running, they worked at the weekend so I didn’t see them a great deal and I had to pop in to fix something and while I was there they asked me if I could sort out their wages. So we worked it all out and I dropped a cheque in for them (they were on air at the time so I just left it on the mixer console for them). I carried on what I was doing and they came back and the conversation went like this:

Presenter : I’ll have a problem with this cheque.
Me : Why?
Presenter : It’s got the wrong name on it.
Me : No it hasn’t? It has your name on it.
Presenter : That’s not my name.
Me : Well why on earth do you call yourself that then?!?!
Presenter : It’s my ‘stage name’, it’s not my real name.

I swore a little and then had a giggle…

Why on earth do people do this? You have a name, it is YOUR name, use it! Why make up another completely different name??

As another example, and I won’t give the real name of the radio presenter, but they call themselves ‘Sam Sam’. Now, why on earth would you call yourself this (their name isn’t Sam by the way, it is a made up name, but it sounds like that). I just can’t for the life of me think why they would call themselves ‘Sam Sam’? It just sounds silly. The same goes for names such as ‘DJ Flip Flop’ and things like that. It’s a shame I can’t really use real names as there are some great ones out there!

As you have noticed, people who don’t use their real name really, really annoy me!

So what is the point of this post? Surely it is not just to moan about people who use silly names on air?

No, it isn’t. Well, it is a bit!

The point of this post is to encourage you to use your real name. It is your brand and identity. You get the chance to promote yourself as much as you want and your brand (your name) is the best advertising you can get! Use it! Cut the silly ‘ Join me, Smiffy’ tag on air and just use your real name. To me, anything else just sounds silly and childish. Use your name and build up your brand and make the most of it that you can.

My name is Gavin Watson and I have never thought of calling myself anything different. On air or off air.

* Any similarity to real names is purely coincidental!

Demo tapes… My opinion

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As I’ve already made some contributions on voice demos on the Internet on a number of occasions, I thought that I’d start my own ‘Radio Blog’ dedicated to this subject. By the way, when I say demo tape, I don’t actually mean a ‘cassette tape’, not that there is anything wrong with that…

Over the years I have been involved in radio, I have been sent, quite literally, hundreds of demo tapes to listen to… Everyone wanted the same thing, a job in radio.

Here are a few of my tips and tricks on how to make sure people listen to yours. Most times you only get one shot at this so if someone does actually get round to listening to your demo, you need to make sure it is going to get their attention.

Before I go about giving you ideas on what you should do, here are a few tips on what not to do. The reason I can list most of these is because all of these examples of what not to do were actually sent to me as genuine demo tapes.

Quality – I once had a voice reel demo sent to me for a job in our production studio. The quality was absolutely awful. The levels were all over the place, I’m not sure how it had been recorded, but it sounded like an old cassette player was just put in front of a speaker. This demo didn’t even warrant a reply it was that bad. What on earth was that person thinking??
If you are applying for a job in a production department, this means that you probably need to be able to edit audio, check recording levels and know what audio quality actually means. If you can’t manage that in a demo. then you don’t deserve the job, in my opinion… Audio levels need to be correct and the quality needs to be good. There is no excuse! As I said before, most times you only get one shot, don’t blow it!

Size – I’m talking MP3’s here. As a person looking for work, you need to be sending your demo to as many people as you can, right? Right! I agree with this. But imagine the flip side… Imagine your email inbox being filled up with huge email attachments on a daily basis… Imagine having to send an urgent email to someone but your email account is jammed trying to download a massive email attachment? If you are going to send an email to someone and you want to send them your voice reel, think about all of this. There are other ways of sending voice demos. Read below to find out more.

Content – One of the demo files I received once was an hour long… It was a full hour show, from start to finish. Managers/Producers do not have this amount of time to listen to a demo. It contained full songs, even adverts! Most decisions are made in the first 20 seconds of listening to the demo… If the first two minutes is filled with music and adverts, people won’t carry on listening further… Again, below I’ll try and give some pointers on what could be done better.

So, what can be done to improve these points? What can you do to make a good demo tape? Well, here is what I would have expected with a few variants depending on what type of audio demo you are sending (presenting, production, news reading, etc…).

I’ll start with how to send your demo first. As I pointed out, employers do not want their inbox clogged up with unsolicited emails with huge attachments, I clearly remember cursing people who had sent me emails with over 10MB worth of attachments that took ages to download, imagine how mad that made me if I was out and about waiting for an urgent email and was only on a 2G mobile connection?? Very mad is the answer (just in case!). What would happen in this situation is that the email would get deleted… Never to be seen again… So that could well have been your one and only chance to get noticed well and truly gone.

What you need to do is find yourself a file hosting service, a place where you can upload your audio demo and then just send a link to your audio file. This way, you are not clogging up someones inbox with huge attachments. 99% of people would prefer that you did this. Your audio demo is now only a link away, it is not a huge email file and it will be quicker to download this way rather than as an email. If you are attaching your CV, make sure that this document isn’t huge too. I’ll discuss CV’s in another post, as this is a whole different subject. If you are looking for somewhere to host your audio/video files, then drop these guys an email (tell them I sent you!), they’ll do you a cheap deal on file hosting.

OK, when you are compiling your email, remember that most of the time, your email will be unsolicited, so you will have to be courteous and preferably, slightly apologetic for sending what in some cases is seen as spam. Firstly, apologise for the intrusion and ask that if you have sent it to the wrong person, that they kindly ask who the correct person might be and if possible, forward it on? If they are the right person, again, be polite and ask them if they would be kind enough to take some of their time and have a listen to the demo you are sending them. You only have a few lines of email to actually get them to listen, make sure you don’t blow it with spelling mistakes and phrases like ‘this is the best thing you’ll ever listen to’ and ‘gizza job’. This will not work! You should also tell them that you will be following up the email in a couple of weeks, ask them if they would mind giving you some feedback on the demo? You might as well! This has two benefits, firstly, you will encourage the person to actually listen to your demo and secondly, you will get free feedback on your demo!

So, be courteous and polite and make sure there are no spelling mistakes. Do not attach huge files and make sure you attach your CV. Make sure that your email and subject clearly display your name (not JulianDJ69inthemix or something similar). Add your name to the subject and clearly label it as an ‘audio demo’. This will make it easier to search for when you email back for your feedback.

About the quality issues… Make sure that it is a good quality recording. If you are sending your demo by email, it will be an MP3 file. There is no reason whatsoever for it not being of good quality. When I mention quality I am not referring to the content, I am referring to the recording quality. Please, make sure that the levels are correct and it is not distorted or anything like that. There is no reason for not being able to make a decent quality recording. I’ll remind you again… You may only get one shot at this, make sure it is a good recording.

About the content, this depends greatly on what position you are looking for really. I’ll deal with radio presenting at the end. Let’s discuss your content if you are looking for a job as a news reader, for example. If this is the case, then what we want to hear is you actually reading the news. Mix down various demo’s of you reading different articles on different days, make it clear when you change from article to article (with a beep or a whoosh) and record different types of read (news, sports, articles, interviews, etc…) For this type of audio demo, I’d say the maximum length of your file should be no more than 3 minutes long. If you are sending a demo for production work, then give examples of your production work, such as adverts, jingles, etc… Anything that you have produced yourself. Your demo has to be of very good audio quality, make sure you take the time to give examples of only your best work.

If you are looking for work as a radio presenter, edit down one of your best shows (or different parts of various shows) but put them into the order of a full hours show. I’ll explain!
Start with a passage maybe coming out of the news/jingle with you talking and going into a song, then out of that song (or another song) with more talking, maybe throwing forward into the next part of the show or a competition, etc… If you have any content where you are talking to callers, add a bit of this, show how diverse you can be but only mix down a short part of each bit. Do not include full songs, news breaks, adverts, etc… DO NOT record a full demo that has not been taken from genuine live shows, most of the time we can tell the difference! By all means take the best bits from all your shows to put together a good demo, but do not be afraid to include anything that has a small mistake, if the demo sounds too perfect, it probably means you have recorded it ‘not live’ which won’t get you anywhere! Anyone can record a demo and edit it together until it sounds absolutely perfect, but it won’t get you anywhere in the long run!

All of this may sound like common sense and most people will read this and think ‘I already do this…’, if you already do all of this, good for you! But you would be surprised at how many people made some (or all!) of these basic mistakes and it completely ruined their chance of their demo even getting listened to.

Many of this advice assumes that you have the ability to record a demo from shows you are already doing (or have done in the past). If you have never ever done a radio show and are therefore unable to edit down an audio demo then realistically, you need to be finding someone who has access to a studio to allow you to make a recording. What you will have to do in this situation is do do a whole mock show (an hour or two show) and try and make it as realistic as possible and edit this down to make up an audio demo.

If you are looking for a radio presenter job I’d go for a demo of around 2-3 minutes in length, this should allow plenty of time for someone to get a good idea of your presentation skills, if they like you, they can ask for more…

If you are sending in your demo via tape, mini disc or CD then you might want to take the time to at least add some kind of label to the media you have sent, I remember a couple of CD’s sent it labelled ‘demo’. When there are lots of demo’s flying around, sometimes they get mislaid or we go back to them at a later time/date. Imagine if someone did this and then didn’t know who you were or how to contact you?? At least put a basic label with your name and contact details on both the media AND then case it is in. Ideally you should make up a professional label for it, it will show that you are taking it seriously.
Again, if you are sending the media in by post, make sure that you send in more than the CD, attach a copy of your CV with it and, where possible, a cover letter personally addressed to who you are sending it to.

Try and get a name of the person you are sending the material to, this also goes for sending emails. Many times people to not take the time to find out who the correct person is, this leads to emails and media getting sent to ‘the station’. This will probably not help you.

Right, that’s it for now. I hope that you find this of interest if you are thinking of submitting your audio demo to a radio station and you have found something interesting here.

I’ll be documenting much more as and when I can. Feel free to get in touch if you want, either by email or by leaving a comment below. I’ll try and answer as much as I can.

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Radio Blog Post

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Well, I have decided to write a blog on my long life in Radio…

I had thought about doing this for quite a while and have now decided to make a start on it as part of my new website… I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to write or how much, or even in what order, but I’ll try and write something on a regular basis.

If you’d like to get in touch, contact me here or just follow on Twitter or Facebook!